canna generalis

Canna, Scotland

Canna (Gaelic Eilean Channaidh) is the westernmost of the Small Isles archipelago, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. It is linked to the neighbouring island of Sanday by a road and sandbanks at low tide. The island is 7 km long and 1.5 km wide. The isolated skerries of Hyskeir and Humla lie 10 km south west of the island.

The islands were left to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) by their previous owner, the Gaelic folklorist and scholar John Lorne Campbell in 1981, and are run as a farm and conservation area. Canna House, one of two big houses on the island (the other being Tighard), contains John Campbell's important archives of Gaelic materials that were donated with the islands to the nation. Campbell's widow, the American musician Margaret Fay Shaw, continued to live on Canna until her death in 2004 aged 101. Since then the NTS has engaged in new initiatives to attract new residents and visitors to the island.


There are some 20 buildings on the island, including three churches (one is deconsecrated and is being converted into a study centre), a tea room and a post office (converted from a garden shed). The island is isolated and the inhabitants must buy their provisions from the mainland, but it has a telephone link, a red telephone box and broadband internet access, although there is no mobile phone coverage. Electricity is provided by a diesel generator, at mainland voltage and frequency, and there is a private water supply.

The island has a zero crime rate - but a mainland-based policeman visits the island twice a year, mainly to inspect gun licences. A doctor based on the neighbouring island of Eigg is available for house calls once a month. The roads on Canna are not metalled and are privately owned, local vehicles therefore do not require road tax. The previous footbridge to Sanday was destroyed by storms during 2005, and has recently been replaced by a road bridge. This allows vehicular access at all tide levels for the first time, although the road on Sanday is still covered by high tides.

A large natural harbour is formed between Canna and Sanday. The pier on Canna, and those of the other Small Isles, was rebuilt and enlarged in 2005. This is used by the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, MV Lochnevis, which links Canna, and the neighbouring Small Isles of Rùm, Eigg and Muck, to the mainland port of Mallaig (2 1/2 hours away). Lochnevis is capable of carrying motor vehicles, although NTS permission is required to land them. The harbour is well sheltered. It is the only deep harbour in the Small Isles, and is very popular with west coast yachting traffic out of Oban and Arisaig.

Canna is renowned for its seabirds, including Manx shearwaters and puffins. The island is also inhabited by a number of rare butterfly species. In the nearby waters one can spot dolphins and smaller whales. Canna is noted for its tiers of basalt pillars that rise over the eastern half of the island and the sea cliffs that dominate its northern shore. The highest point on the island is Càrn a' Ghaill (Gaelic for rocky hill of the storm) at 210 m. On the eastern edge of the island, Compass Hill (139 m) is formed of a volcanic rock known as tuff of such a high iron content that nearby ships' compasses are distorted, pointing east, rather than north.


A' Chill, situated to the north west of Canna Harbour was the main settlement until 1851 when the island was cleared. The post-clearance population is recorded as 57 in 1881 (with a further 62 on Sanday), and population numbers remained fairly stable at around 20 - 30 during the second half of the last century, but by the time of the 2001 census had dwindled to 6 (12 including Sanday).

Recent developments

Rat problem

In September 2005, it was reported that the population of Brown Rats on the island had grown to 10,000 and was causing such problems to both the human population and the birdlife, particularly the rare Manx shearwaters, that a complete cull would take place. However, the population of woodmice, Apodemus sylvaticus on the island is a distinct race descended from a Norse lineage, and as the rat cull used rodenticide, a breeding population of mice was removed beforehand by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) to safeguard the population's future. By the end of 2006 it was believed that Canna was rat-free. The mice had been returned to Canna and appeared to be thriving. During the summer of 2006 there was also an encouraging increase in the number of breeding puffins and razorbills, and Manx shearwaters were nesting for the first time since 1997.

Call for families for Canna

In October 2006 the NTS decided to invite two families to rent properties on the island, in an effort to attract new skills and spirit to the island community. The invitation was mainly aimed at people with "skills in building, plumbing and gardening". The call was global and over 400 responses were received, from places as varied as Germany, Sweden, India and Dubai. From these, Sheila Gunn and John Clare were chosen to move to Canna during summer 2007. They were joined in early 2008 by two more incomers, Neil and Deborah Baker, from Llannon, in the Gwendraeth Valley in South Wales. Neil is a gardener, and his job is to restore the fine but overgrown gardens of Canna House.


See also


  • Shaw, Margaret Fay: From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides (Canongate, 1999)

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